Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Birthday: You May Have His Axe, But I Have His Ball Peen Hammer

Happy Birthday, Charlie Parker! I borrow the following from Garrison Keillor:

It's the birthday of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, born in Kansas City, Kansas (1920). He is considered one of the half-dozen greatest jazz musicians, right up there with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Early in his career, he received the nickname of "Yardbird," and he became known as "Bird."

Before Parker, jazz meant swing, melodies played at dance tempos by musicians in big orchestras who never got to take solos for very long. Late at night, after their big band jobs were over, Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and other black musicians kept on playing, improvising long lines at blazing speed. Parker used a lot of flatted fifths, and jazz players used the word "bebop" to sing a flatted fifth, but Parker didn't like to use the word for the way he played. "Let's not call it bebop," he said. "Let's just call it music."

As a teenager, Parker became addicted to morphine while hospitalized after a car accident. He later became addicted to heroin, which contributed to his death at 34. The official cause was listed as pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer. The coroner made a mistake in estimating Parker's age to be between 50 and 60.

Parker said, "I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That's when I was born."


Robert D Feinman said...

Radio station WKCR-FM (also on the web, has a Charlie Parker birthday festival each year. It's on right now, if you want to catch the last 8 hours.

Wednesday is Pres (Lester Young), Thursday is an overlap of the two and Friday is Bird.

They also have a weekday program "Bird Flight" from about 8-9:45 AM.

Shag from Brookline said...

Charlie Parker was a country music fan.

Quite a few sax players, old and new, switched instruments after hearing Bird play.

Bird, Prez and Diz live. And so does my favorite Illinois Jacquet. Try the Jazz at the Philharmonic recordings of the mid-late 1940s, 1950s for them and other greats. I get the Blues just thinking about them.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that ball peen hammer? The peen is the part of the hammer away from the striking face.

Jack said...

Be aware that the 8:30 AM broadcast on KCR-FM with Phil Schapp at the microphone is as much a jazz tutorial as it is music. Phil is an encyclopedia and for those who want an education in jazz, bebop or otherwise, thee is no better location to be than 89.9 each AM, til about 9:20. If you don't appreciate listening about the music you'll be disappointed. If you want to hear recorded music that you can't hear elsewhere you'll not be disappointed. Phil is also on at Noon, and jazz can be heard on WKCR-FM many times during the day.

Anonymous said...

Bird greatly influenced my playing and my desire to learn to play the saxophone.

Anonymous said...

"Bird greatly influenced my playing and my desire to learn to play the saxophone."

If so try listening to Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Johnny Hodges, all of whom are said to have had an influence on Parker. Try Ben Webster for inspiration, he's equally as innovative and melodic, but far more relaxed. Trying to play like Parker will only leave one disheartened. He, like Coltrane, is said to have practiced more than they slept. That's what it takes and that's why no one is likely to ever be them. These days try James Carter for an incredible display of talent, both musical and technical.
Last, but far from least, is Zoot Sims. Known, but unheralded to the others' degree, he has as good a tone as Stan Getz, but is far more "swinging." I'd suggest "At Falcon Crest" with Joe Castro, a superb example of the west coast sound.

kevin quinn said...

"Ball peen" it is - thanks, anonymous! My title of course was a (lame) illusion to the multiple claims to be in possession of his saxophone - his 'ax'- that appeared following his death.

One of my favorite Bird recordings is called "One Night in Washington.' I have vinyl only - I don't know if it is on CD. It is a live recording of Parker sitting in with Bill Potts' Big Band at a club in DC in I believe 1951. There is a similar record with Prez, but not as good as the Parker. A nice bonus on the record is a recorded remembrance of Bird by trumpeter Red Rodney who toured with Bird for a while. When they played the South, Rodney, who was white, was billed as "Albino Red" so as not to offend against Southern racism with an integrated band. To maintain the illusion, Rodney even sang a perfunctory blues number before the band launched into their standard repertoire. Anyway, Bird Lives!